Wednesday, January 25

Be Careful What You Ask For

I always say that marketing is a spectator sport ... we can learn a lot from each other.  This is particularly true in social media, where consumer behavior and brand activation is still uncharted territory in many ways.

Just recently I wrote about how Walgreens learned that it can't buy love on Twitter with a promoted trending topic like #ilovewalgreens.

Well yesterday, McDonald's learned a similar lesson with #McDStories - the brand created a hashtag to tell stories about the quality of its food, and asked for stories back from its consumers as well.  McDonald's started the stream, and then opened it up.  Well ... what happened over the next two hours of warp speed tweeting is incredible.

The stories quickly turned snarky with tweeters posting comments about how bad their experiences have been at McDonald's.  Not exactly what the brand was hoping for.  Even some tweets back and forth with PETA.  McDonald's was looking for a love fest, and got something far short of that.  The brand quickly shut it down.  It made national news ... McOuch.

There have been similar instances with the airline Qantas, the band Nickelback, and Kraft Mac & Cheese.  Instances where the brand was hoping to open up a positive dialogue with its Twitter followers and instead got a lot of criticism.  Criticism about bad customer service, cheesy music, and poor product quality.  Things inherent to the brands that perhaps they were not prepared to defend.

Nickelback responded by responding to every single tweet - often with a snarky comment in return.  Worked for them and their "brand," but wouldn't work for a conservative brand like Kraft.

The lesson learned here?

Despite everything we say in the conference room, we can't "own" the conversation.  We can put it out there, but consumers decide which direction it takes.  If a brand wants to open up, which it should, then a brand needs to be prepared for what comes back.  And continue to dialogue in their own brand spirit.

No brand is squeaky clean when it comes to business.  Every brand is a work in progress ... so be prepared for all the skeletons to be pointed out.  Which is ok, if the brand owns up to it and discusses it openly as well.  Transparency and honesty is key in social media.

If you're not ready to really and truly dialogue with your consumers, like Nickelback, then wait until you are ready.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Jim Joseph
President of Lippe Taylor
Author of The Experience Effect
Professor at NYU


  1. All you have to do is follow any comment stream on Twitter or Huffpost or even on our own facebook pages. Positive very quickly turns to negative and sometimes downright nasty. Human nature? Hard times? The veil of anonymity? All I know is no person, brand or a team of wild horses can stop it.

  2. Probably all of those things. Totally agree ... a little sad but nice that there's an open dialogue. Jim.

  3. Great perspective on the #MCDStories situation, Jim. Many brands prefer social media monologues. Conversations? Well, they aren't as nice and tidy as social media monologues. Lesson - be smart, be self-aware, be able to think about all the ways the conversation might go bad BEFORE you start it.

  4. LOVE the brand monologues idea, Mike. The days of monologues (ala tv advertising) are long gone. Jim.

  5. Giant #McFail on McD's part ... To Michael's point, I'm reminded of conversations with management who could not accept that communications with consumers have transformed into a two-way dialogue. The genie is out of the bottle and social media has become the great equalizer. The best any company or brand can hope for is that the conversation takes place on a platform that allows them to listen in and/or participate. And as far Helayne's observation about the speed with which this can happen, just look at what happened with Joe Paterno's misreported death this past weekend.

  6. The speed is the amazing part. Two hours for McDonald's. Minutes for Joe Paterno. Jim.

  7. What were they thinking? It's always nice to be true to your brand, but you have to think like your customers before you do this. Did they really think the majority had great memories at a McDonalds? Thinking logically, this was a mistake from the beginning. Jim, you pointed out a very important thing in social media, transparency and honesty is key. Yes, it's good to allow bad publicity with the good, but there's a line. Allowing that kind of open opinion for the entire public to see was dangerous. Some companies can do that and succeed, like Dominos, but most cannot change how every single employee and franchisee operates to their delight. Great post Jim, expected nothing less but awesomeness and you nailed it!

  8. Cedar - "what were they thinking" is right!! Thanks for the kind words! Great comparison to Dominos - they opened up honestly about their weak areas and people embraced it. Jim.

  9. On Facebook, the usual response is to ban the "offender," like when I took issue with the Brimfield sheriff showing of his new Bearcat. I assume he did so to ensure everyone knew that he know had the capacity to crush dissent, which I explicitly take issue with, especially as a uniformed military member.

    I was promptly banned.